Safe transportation... By Shahryar
18 September, 2012
Unfortunately, our country's tax collecting organisation, the FBR, failed to profit from this latest trend. Not only did they not manage to tax the transportation trade properly, they relied on bribery, cheating and corruption to steal more than Rs 200 billion a year from this trade. With time, smugglers and corrupt FBR officials became even bolder and started stealing NATO/ISAF containers. It was only in late 2010, when a number of very high profile items like the US Army Hummer Jeeps, helicopter engines, bomb sniffing dogs and sophisticated radar equipment were stolen from NATO/ISAF containers and then were recovered in Bara, Khyber district by the Pakistan army, the FBR came under pressure to investigate and control this corruption.
The FBR took the right step to track all these containers that were being stolen or unloaded during their transportation from Karachi to Quetta/Peshawar by planning to install tracking equipment on them.
In January 2011, the FBR issued a 'Request for Expression of Interest for Safe Transportation Environment Project', a project that envisioned a company that will help train and set-up the tracking system for the FBR, so that the FBR office in Karachi can track all containers going upcountry for trans-shipment to Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries.
The principle agent for this project was Muhammad Irfan Wahid, Second Secretary Customs (Law & Procedures), FBR House, Islamabad. The project was simple enough and using the business relations of our company with an expert European tracking equipment manufacturing company called Teltonika, we offered FBR a very good project proposal that would have enabled them to install and manage tracking of all their containers moving in Pakistan within six months.
However, a week before the deadline of the project I knew that my company would not get the project because suddenly large front-page full-colour ads of a new company called Trakker started appearing in two national dailies, nine days in a row. This was definitely an attempt to promote a new company as a very experienced tracking company so that they could easily get a government-sponsored project. The project commenced on March 25, 2012. After only five months, the project has suddenly been stopped and is under review.
All this clearly shows signs of an internal conflict and failures due to rampant corruption in a relatively simple project. The FBR is losing more than Rs 200 billion every year with delays to this project. They should immediately start monitoring the containers themselves. The best and simplest way is to ask all truck/container owners to buy simple car/container tracking equipment from the open market to keep prices competitive. There are more than 12 companies selling such equipment in Karachi alone. The FBR should issue a mobile phone SIM card to each container that will be sealed by the FBR or Customs in Karachi. The data of the tracking equipment and the mobile SIM card phone number can be entered into the database at the location, and then the containers can be tracked by the FBR from any computer that has internet access. If any container stops, that would trigger an alarm to the FBR/Customs who can send in local inspection teams to investigate the stoppage or listen in to the microphone of the tracking equipment for signs of smuggling. The FBR/Custom inspection team can also use tracking equipment and can take video footage of the road inspection of any containers on their mobile phones that can be uploaded to the database as further proof of any tampering.
Overall, this simple project would not only help save Rs 200 billion every year, it will also help the FBR/Customs generate a lot of revenue in the coming years as the trade increases on this route. But instead, the FBR has given the entire project to a relatively inexperienced and new company called M/S Tracker, who are charging Rs 5,600 plus extras per container per trip. The FBR claims that Tracker was selected from 12 shortlisted tracking companies, but so far has failed to mention the names of any of these 12 companies.
If the FBR is serious about stopping the smuggling of goods from the Afghan transit containers, then they should allow all companies to install and sell tracking equipment, and the FBR would simply manage the mobile SIM card connections by doing a contract with a telecom company that can provide numbers, connections and licensed tracking software. Moreover, the FBR should start tracking all containers from Oct 1, 2012.
SHAHRYAR KHAN BASEER